Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Chopped Liver Memories

This article originally appeared in the December 1989 issue of Trains Magazine and is used here with permission of Kalmbach Publishing, the publisher.

In the summer of 1958, when I was 10 years old, my parents sent me away for eight weeks of summer camp for the first time. In those days it was customary for Wisconsin camps to transport their campers from Chicago by train. Camp location and train schedules dictated which train was utilized, but nearly always the railroads provided special cars for the campers on regularly scheduled trains. Camp Day-Cho-La as mine was called was located on Green Lake near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and utilized Chicago & North Western’s new bi-level Peninsula 400 for transport.

A week before my departure date, the trunk containing my clothing and other camp items was picked up by Railway Express for shipment to camp. As the date approached, my sense of excitement (and nervousness) increased. This would be my first significant trip without my family. Following camp instructions, Mom had packed me a dinner to eat on the train since we would not be getting to Fond du Lac until around 7pm and to the camp much later. At this point I can only recall two things about the meal that she packed, there was more food than any two kids could eat, and there was at least one homemade chopped chicken liver sandwich. So it was that one very hot weekday afternoon in mid-June my mother and I, dinner in hand, boarded a C&NW commuter train at the suburban Ravinia stop, bound for Chicago and the camp train.
A Bilevel 400

Chicago & North Western Passenger Terminal
At the C&NW Passenger Terminal we were met by my father, who worked in downtown Chicago and had left work early to see me off on my journey. After registering with the camp counselors, we had some time to wait in the sweltering station before I boarded. The railroad had provided a bi-level commuter coach for the campers, and I can recall settling into a pair of seats configured face-to-face at the front of the left side of the car. As I was meeting my fellow campers I heard a tapping on the right front window of the car. There was my father, worried about the heat and spoiled food, and as I watched he wrote words to me in the (atypical) dust on the window.

It’s been 30 years since that day [now 56], and virtually everything to do with that trip is gone. Luckily my parents are both still around [Dad passed in 2010, Mom passed in 2013], but the bi-level Peninsula 400 is no more, its equipment living out its final years in Amtrak Chicago short haul service. I had occasion to drive by Green Lake in 1976, and the camp was abandoned. The Chicago & North Western passenger station lasted well into the 1980’s before being claimed by the wrecking ball and replaced by a skyscraper. But I still have memories of that day. Every time the temperature soars into the 90’s and higher, I can picture in my mind my dad’s last minute note to me:

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